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Old 05-12-2012, 01:15 PM   #1
kennyc
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Is the American Novel Dead?

Some might think so...

Quote:
From Steinbeck to Steampunk: The Day the American Novel Died
Part of: There, I Said It!

Author: John H. Byk — Published: May 11, 2012 at 1:11 am 0 comments
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“Imagine a young man on his way to a less-than-thirty-second event--the loss of his left hand, long before he reached middle age.” –John Irving from The Fourth Hand.

Is the Golden Age of American Literature dead? The above quote is from the opening line of John Irving’s novel published in 2001. We all know what happened in September of that year and I can’t help but think that more than just the World Trade Center, along with America’s sense of national security, collapsed.

I found The Fourth Hand today in a second-hand store and immediately was drawn into it and had to buy it. I had read several of Irving’s novels earlier in my life and always came away from them with a sense of my life somehow being changed, embellished, and fascinating. Many of his contemporaries in the late 20th century also had the same effect upon me as a reader when I was studying for my Masters of Art in English, such as Jim Harrison, Cormac McCarthy, Philip Roth, Ken Kesey, Paul Theroux and others just to name a few. But when I pick up a so-called best seller these days, I don’t find the same kind of compelling prose, meaningful narrative, and provocative insights into the complexities of the human experience that I used to cherish.

Instead, I usually unsatisfactorily discover banality, sensationalism, or superficiality that reflects, in my opinion, a generation of writers that grew up on MTV, vampires, zombies or tiresome, post-apocalyptic themes that do little to mirror life through art as I believe, and was taught, that excellent literature should do. What has gone wrong with this picture (or this book to be more precise)? Have serious authors retreated, along with the rest of American society in general, into a shell of self-denial, and sold out completely to the bottom line or is there nothing left to honestly say about our culture anymore?

Golden Ages of literature come and go. This is a historical fact. England had its with authors such as D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens and similar writers. In fact, England has had more than one Golden Age if you want to go as far back to the times of Shakespeare and Chaucer.

.....
Rest is here:
http://blogcritics.org/books/article...mpunk-the-day/
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Old 05-12-2012, 01:17 PM   #2
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Old 05-12-2012, 01:33 PM   #3
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In other words, get off my lawn.
Whoever is looking wistfully backward, the Golden Age always lies in the past.
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Old 05-12-2012, 04:35 PM   #4
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Old 05-12-2012, 04:51 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ntsimp View Post
In other words, get off my lawn.
Whoever is looking wistfully backward, the Golden Age always lies in the past.
The best way to prove him wrong is to list current authors that produce works as significant as those mentioned in the blog. If you can't, then maybe he has a point.
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Old 05-12-2012, 04:57 PM   #6
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He used to cherish best-sellers? That's not usually where we find life-changing literature.
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Old 05-12-2012, 05:10 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rkomar View Post
The best way to prove him wrong is to list current authors that produce works as significant as those mentioned in the blog. If you can't, then maybe he has a point.
All of which would be blown off as fluff. He's already made his mind up.
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Old 05-12-2012, 05:21 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rkomar View Post
The best way to prove him wrong is to list current authors that produce works as significant as those mentioned in the blog. If you can't, then maybe he has a point.
It's a lot easier to find the "significant" novels fifty or a hundred years later. What criteria do you recommend to judge which ones are significant enough?

There are still plenty of intense, passionate, well-written, mind-bending, life-changing novels being written. Their numbers are likely higher than ever, but there are less percentage-wise than used to be; the free-publishing-for-all phenomenon has moved them from "needle in haystack" to "grain of sand on the beach."

The explosion of media means that not everyone has read the same books anymore, just like the explosion of cable tv meant that networks can't count on the millions of viewers they could in the 60's.

2005: ~300,000 new books in the US, a stable rough number for many years. If even three hundred of those were "new classics" that would stand the test of the ages, that's .1%. No one person was going to have read them all, and most readers would never have come across any of them. And I don't think three hundred books a year have that much longevity.

2010: 3,000,000+ new books in the US. If 300 of them are going to last... that's .01%. The majority of readers--even avid readers who go through more than 50 books a year--will never have heard of the handful that are going to last.
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Old 05-12-2012, 05:52 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kennyc View Post
Golden Ages of literature come and go. This is a historical fact. England had its with authors such as D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens and similar writers. In fact, England has had more than one Golden Age if you want to go as far back to the times of Shakespeare and Chaucer.
People have always shaken their fists at the present day, and said that it didn't live up to the good old days. It is always a golden age of literature. You just don't know at the time what truly is the great literature of that era.

Sure, there are banal, sensational and superficial books written today. The same thing was true in the past. Penny Dreadful anyone? We've just forgotten the forgettable books of the past, just as the forgettable books of today will be forgotten.

Last edited by QuantumIguana; 05-12-2012 at 05:55 PM.
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Old 05-12-2012, 07:18 PM   #10
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Isn't John Irving Canadian? Kennyc, any thoughts on In One Person?
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Old 05-12-2012, 07:18 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by QuantumIguana View Post
Sure, there are banal, sensational and superficial books written today. The same thing was true in the past. Penny Dreadful anyone? We've just forgotten the forgettable books of the past, just as the forgettable books of today will be forgotten.
QFT. And really, there's no use being upset that we won't know what the "memorable books" of our era will be, because those are just the ones that society will pick out as noteworthy. I've seen classics that were great, and classics that I wish to keep myself as far away from as possible. Just because something stands the test of time is no guarantee that it's good (particularly because "good" is subjective anyways). Find authors that are meaningful to you, and what more do you need?
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Old 05-12-2012, 07:27 PM   #12
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Eh. Just another Literature Snob whining. Nothing to see here.
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Old 05-12-2012, 08:42 PM   #13
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@Elfwreck: you've given some good reasons why we're less likely to find significant books and writers today than during the "Golden Age". I have no doubt that people are just as talented today as they were 50 years ago. However, if we're not reading their books, what good is that? Maybe the "Golden Age" was really about developing and bringing the talent to the fore, rather than whether there was more of it around then. With the way big money is pushing the publishing business, I have no trouble believing that today's system might be less geared towards producing significant works than it used to be when it was directed by book lovers.
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Old 05-12-2012, 08:46 PM   #14
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Quote:
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Isn't John Irving Canadian? Kennyc, any thoughts on In One Person?
Uh, no,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Irving

but I just quoted the article.

His new book is on my tbr list but have not got it or read it yet. I've loved his other work.
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Old 05-12-2012, 09:23 PM   #15
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Isn't John Irving Canadian?...
I think you're thinking of Irving Layton.
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